Stupid legal threat of the young century -UPDATED

Boing Boing has been on the receiving end of one or two stupid legal threats in our day but this one from the firm of Lazar, Akiva & Yagoubzadeh takes the cake, the little cake topper, the frosting and all the candles, as well as the box and the cake-stand and the ornamental forks.

Back in July, I posted about the research on the academic advantage some people with autism exhibit. In the comments, someone else used the word "scam" in a message board post. Here's the quote: "Went to college expecting it to be the place of knowledge, an all encompassing and way to get information instantly. I quickly found its a scam..."

Here's where it gets good. The legal eagles at Lazar, Akiva & Yagoubzadeh represent an (apparently extremely touchy) company called Academic Advantage and they apparently earn their keep by using alerts or searches for "Academic Advantage scam" to see who's badmouthing good old AA, and then they fire off a legal threat and demand that the content be removed from the Internet posthaste. (Funnily enough, Boing Boing isn't even in the first screen of Google results for academic advantage scam -- though there are certainly plenty of people who seems upset with AA's service!)

There's no legal merit to this, of course. "Commercial libel" is damned hard to make stick (that pesky First Amendment!), and it takes a lot more than a blog post that contains the words "academic" "advantage" and "scam" to make a workable legal case.

No, this is pure legal thuggery, a completely indiscriminate bid to intimidate bloggers and publishers into censoring themselves by threatening dire legal consequences.

And the sad thing is, it probably works. Most people don't know the law (see EFF Bloggers' Rights articles), and can't afford to ask a lawyer what they should do in a situation like this. All we can hope is that the next time someone gets a letter over "academic advantage scam" or similar false positives, they get to this blog post and discover that our legal pals at Dewey, Cheatham and Howe Lazar, Akiva & Yagoubzadeh know even less about the law than they do about the Internet.

As always, your first stop when receiving stupid legal threats should be the good, good people at Chilling Effects. And to the lawyers at Lazar, Akiva & Yagoubzadeh (whose motto is "Experienced Attorneys. Proven Results." and who boast of degrees from Harvard, NYU and UCLA): shame on you. What would your parents say if they could see you squandering your top legal educations with this kind of careless, sloppy farce?

Update: Academic Advantage has fired Lazar, Akiva & Yagoubzadeh for making this spurious threat.

Re: Libel committed on your BoingBoing website (PDF)